Regional US operator Pioneer Cellular has inaugurated its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in selected parts of six counties in central and western Oklahoma, adjacent to the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Telecompetitor reports. Additional base stations are expected to be lit over the course of the next ten months, as the cellco’s network deployment gathers pace. When completed, the network will cover more than 260,000 people in 21 counties across nearly 17,000 miles of central, western and southern Oklahoma.
The network launch, which took place towards the end of last month, means that Pioneer Cellular technically becomes the first participant in Verizon Wireless’s ‘LTE in Rural America’ programme to go live, narrowly beating Wisconsin-based Cellcom, which launched LTE earlier this week. Pioneer Cellular CEO Richard Ruhl told the website that the company will initially offer three devices for use with the network: a MiFi hotspot, a USB dongle and a fixed home router. Within 30 days he expects the cellco to offer LTE-suitable mobile handsets. Pricing will be ‘comparable’ to the amounts charged by Tier 1 carriers, although Pioneer is also expected to unveil a number of multi-play offers leveraging its fixed line business.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, Pioneer was one of the first regional carriers to join the LTE in Rural America programme, back in December 2010. It began testing its LTE network twelve months later, and indicated that it expected to launch commercial LTE services this spring. In May 2010, prior to its commercial LTE launch, Verizon Wireless revealed that it was looking to partner with an unspecified number of rural operators in an effort to speed up its LTE deployments. The cellco planned to lease pockets of its 700MHz spectrum to rural carriers so that they can roll out LTE networks of their own, over which Verizon will have roaming rights. Verizon said that it would not insist that the rural carriers used Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson as their LTE infrastructure vendors as Verizon has done, but noted that there may be some benefits from economies of scale through sharing vendors.